Dyslexia: Early Signs & Symptoms
Written by: Sandy Sondell Ph.D, L.P.
Too often, children with reading disorders go unnoticed until third grade or later. This is often because children who struggle with reading display inattentive or disruptive behaviors causing teachers and parents to focus on managing the negative behaviors rather than exploring whether difficulty learning might be a cause of the problem. However, with effective, evidence-based interventions, children with reading disorders can become readers. Ideally, children should be identified as early as Kindergarten or first grade. Therefore, it is important for parents to become aware of the building blocks of learning to read as well as signs and symptoms of reading disorders.
Although language is innate, reading is a skill that needs to be learned. The core function needed to learn to read is called phonemic awareness, or the ability to understand and manipulate the basic sounds of language. In other words, children need to be able to break down words into syllables and sounds. For example, they should be able to recognize that baseball can be broken down into base and ball or that the word ball can be further broken down into the sounds b and all.
The first steps in phonemic awareness begin during the preschool years as children learn to rhyme using nursery rhymes and songs. This appreciation for rhyming introduces them to the sounds of language. Additionally, preschoolers are beginning to learn the letters of the alphabet. Signs of difficulty with phonemic awareness in preschoolers include struggling to understand rhyming words or having trouble learning the names of letters. By kindergarten, children demonstrate knowledge of letters' sounds and begin decoding and recognizing common words by sight. Signs of reading disorders in kindergarten students include failing to understand that words can be broken down into syllables and sounds, making reading errors with no connection to the sounds of the letters, and not being able to identify common one-syllable words. Finally, by second grade, children should be able to demonstrate decoding skills (sounding out unfamiliar words).
As mentioned above, children with reading disorders often are not noticed because teachers and parents focus on behavioral problems. Although these behaviors often are used as a coping mechanism to avoid reading, it should also be noted that children with reading disorders are at higher risk for co-occurring disorders that include Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Conduct Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, and Anxiety Disorder. Therefore, a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation should include assessment of cognitive, academic, and social-emotional functioning. Once a reading disorder is identified, empirically based intervention should be implemented immediately. Empirically based interventions are those that have been researched and evidenced to significantly improve reading skills in children diagnosed with a Reading Disorder. The first two books on the list below provide greater detail about empirically based interventions, which include The Wilson Language System (www.wilsonlanguage.com), Lindamood-Bell (www.lblp.com), and Orton-Gillingham (www.orton-gillingham.com).
The following is a list of resources for children with reading disorders and their parents:
- Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz, M.D.
- Report of The National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read by TheNational Institute of Child Health and Human Development (301-496-6591; www.nationalreadingpanel.org)
- Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons by Siegfried Engelmann, Phyllis Haddox, Elaine Bruner
- Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks for Teaching Children to Read by The National Institute for Literacy (800-228-8813; www.nifl.gov)
- A Mind at a Time; All Kinds of Minds; The Myth of Laziness by Mel Levine
- Wrightslaw: Special Education Law by Peter W. D. Wright and Pamela Darr Wright
- Study Skills: A Landmark School Teaching Guide by Joan Sedita
- MN Board of Education